When parents separate, the higher income parent (the “payor”) may be required to fulfil child support obligations pursuant to the Divorce Act by paying a prescribed monthly maintenance amount to the “recipient” parent under the Federal Child Support Guidelines. The Divorce Act provides that child support is payable for so long as children fall within the definition of “a child of the marriage” defined in Section 2(1)(b) of the Act as a child who is “the age of majority or over and under their parents’ charge but unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to withdraw from their charge or to obtain the necessaries of life.” For unmarried couples the Family Law Act of B.C. defines a child at section 146 to include “a person who is 19 years of age or older and unable, because of illness, disability or another reason, to obtain the necessaries of life or withdraw from the charge of his or her parents or guardians.”

Child support is an indefinite obligation that does not necessarily end when a child reaches the age of majority and can often include children who are pursuing post-secondary education. If a child has special needs that prevent them from earning sufficient income to support themselves, child support may continue for the lifetime of the parent. If the child receives assistance from the government, the amount of child support a parent is required to pay may be reduced by the amount of any government assistance.

Under the Federal Child Support Guidelines the presumptive income for each parent is the amount shown on line 150 of their most recent income tax return. When a parent’s “guideline income” changes they can apply to vary an existing child support order or parenting agreement so it’s important to review tax returns annually. Parents who experience economic hardship through no fault of their own from job loss or a reduction in self-employment income may have difficulty fulfilling their support obligations and in these cases, a court will look at any evidence put forth by the payor parent in order to determine whether a support order should be varied.

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Deborah A. Todd